WHERE WOULD I BE TODAY WITHOUT THE REBBE?
January 3, 2019
Menachem Mendel Arad in #1148, Profile

The various stages of the life of RHershel Finkelman were stormy and filled with upheavals. In an amazing fashion, at every juncture in his life, the Rebbe concerned himself with his welfare. * He was born in Morocco, and even before he was born, the Rebbe guided his adoptive father to reach out to him and his sister. He later left the path of observance in anger and tried every which way to get his adoptive father to give up on him and throw him out of the house, but with no success. * Thanks to the letter that the Rebbe sent to his Holocaust survivor father, RSimcha Bunim Finkelman, he decided to return to the path of tradition.* In a tear-inducing interview, he reveals his life story and his powerful connection to the Rebbe, for whom he pines with no end.

A letter from Rabbi Shlomo Matusof to R’ Simcha Bunim Finkelman upon his arrival in the United States with the adopted children. | Hershel going over the letters that revealed the secret of his life.Part I

27 Sivan 5775.

R’ Zalman Farkash, mashpia in the Chabad yeshiva in Buenos Aires, Argentina, traveled to the city of Seattle, Washington for the wedding of his niece. As any Chassid who finds himself in the vicinity, he decided to use the opportunity to travel to the Rebbe.

Besides for his personal motivation to be by the Rebbe, he also had another mission. A friend of his, who was cured from the dreaded disease in a miraculous manner and no longer faced danger to life, to his great sadness had been informed by the doctors that due to the disease and the treatment, he and his wife would not be able to bring children into the world.

Being in this painful situation, they looked into the idea of adopting a child, but soon were faced with a difficult dilemma. They wanted to adopt a Jewish child who was born in purity, but they soon discovered the reality that this was an ideal that may well be impossible to achieve. Having no choice, they considered adopting a gentile child and converting him, and raising him as a Jew.

R’ Farkash tried to clarify the issue with rabbis who are expert in this area of halacha. He dug through the letters of the Rebbe and consulted knowledgeable friends who would be likely to know the Rebbe’s view on the matter. However, he did not succeed in arriving at a clear conclusion as to how to advise his friend regarding the Torah view of the Rebbe.

Part II

R’ Hershel Finkelman, a Jew of about sixty years old with graying hair, entered 770 in order to say the final Kaddish for the passing of his father, R’ Simcha Bunim Finkelman.

His father, who had survived the terrible years of the Holocaust, merited to live a long life. Eleven months prior to that day, on 27 Tammuz 5774, he returned his soul to its Maker as the age of 102.

As this was an especially moving day for R’ Hershel, coming full cycle in expressing his gratitude for the special father who raised him, he decided to say the final Kaddish by the Rebbe.

It was not easy for R’ Hershel to stand for the saying of the Kaddish, because he was suffering from a severe flareup of his arthritis. That was the reason he remained seated throughout the entire davening, and only stood up for the saying of Kaddish.

He tried to organize a minyan. Exactly at that time, R’ Zalman Farkash was standing not far from him, and he asked him to join the minyan. When Finkelman told R’ Farkash that this was to be his last Kaddish for his father, R’ Farkash was very moved. Seeing such warmth and caring from R’ Farkash really affected Finkelman, and at the conclusion of the davening, he turned to thank him. As a sign of his gratitude, he wanted to do something that would make him happy, and what could make a Chassid happier than seeing “something from the Rebbe?”

“I want to show you something,” Hershel said to R’ Farkash, and as he was speaking, he took out from his tefillin bag an original letter from the Rebbe, which the Rebbe had written to his deceased father, R’ Simcha Bunim, on 17 Iyar 5718.

R’ Farkash was very excited about holding an original letter from the Rebbe in his hands. The shock that he expressed upon reading its contents surprised Finkelman. “In answer to your letter from 5/6, in which you write about adopting a girl from a non-Jewish school for girls, and to rely on the matter of converting a child al daas Beis Din.

“Chas v’shalom to think about such a thing, and if you and your wife have decided to adopt a child, it must be only from a Jewish husband and wife, and which was born in kosher fashion, and with the proper effort this can be found. And especially if you will look for this in North Africa, by our Jewish brethren the Sephardim, as there they are all G-d fearing Jews, and bli ayin hara with large families, and the parnasa situation is very pressured.”

R’ Farkash’s hands were shaking with excitement. He could not believe what his eyes were seeing. The very question that had been plaguing him, and now the answer came directly to him in amazing Divine Providence, completely beyond any rational explanation. To receive such a clear answer was way beyond his expectations. “This is a miracle! This is a miracle!” he mumbled to himself in shock.

R’ Hershel could not begin to understand what would cause a Chassid upon encountering a letter of the Rebbe, as exciting as that may be, to become completely overwhelmed.

“You don’t understand,” R’ Farkash explained to him, in a voice choked with tears. “It is now quite some time that I have been trying to identify the Rebbe’s position on the adoption of a gentile child. I davened that Hashem should send me the answer, and now you hand me an original letter of the Rebbe with an answer that could not be more exact. I feel that this is the message that the Rebbe is sending me to pass along to my friend.”

He asked his new friend for permission to take a picture of the letter in order to forward it to the aforementioned friend. However, R’ Hershel was hesitant, as he was afraid that there might be those who would feel hurt by the contents of the letter.

Part III

Who is this R’ Hershel Finkelman? How did he get the letter? And why was he so concerned about publicizing the letter?

To answer these and more questions, we have to go back many years into the past.

R’ Hershel’s father, R’ Simcha Bunim Finkelman, was born in the village of Yadov in Poland to parents who were Gerrer Chassidim. Yet, due to their financial situation and the large family they were blessed with, his father could not send him to a Chassidishe yeshiva.

In those days, Litvishe yeshivos under the auspices of the Novardok movement began to flourish throughout Poland. There were over 200 such small yeshivos in Poland and anyone could attend for free. This is why R’ Simcha Bunim went to a Litvishe yeshiva.

When he went on to Yeshivas Beis Yosef of Novardok in Pinsk, R’ Simcha Bunim learned with Rabbi Yaakov Yisroel Kanievsky, later famous as the Steipler Gaon.

Despite the years in which he learned in a Litvishe yeshiva, his Chassidic spirit was never dampened. He was suffused with Chassidic feeling that remained with him all his life.

He married Perel Basya Adler, daughter of a Vizhnitz Chassidic family from Warsaw. They both suffered during the Holocaust.

“Once, while in an extermination camp, he was given soup with pork in it,” said R’ Hershel, who heard this story from a friend who survived with his father. “A Nazi sarcastically wished him a hearty appetite. My father stared at him, poured the soup on the ground, and said, ‘No thank you.’

“Friends said, ‘Simcha, your life is in danger; you are allowed to eat it,’ but he refused.”

R’ Simcha Bunim lost his entire family in the Holocaust. Together with his wife, who also survived, they left the cursed land and moved to the United States where they settled in Boro Park. They constantly wished and prayed for a child and yearned for a large family to replace those who had been murdered. But Hashem wanted otherwise.

PART IV

On the last day of R’ Simcha Bunim’s Shiva, a 98-year-old man came to console his son, R’ Hershel. He told him the following, in tears:

“Your father, who was a Chassid in his neshama, went to the old Skverer Rebbe, Rabbi Yaakov Yosef Twersky, for a bracha for children. I was the one who suggested he go to this Rebbe because of a bracha I had received from him. After many years of childlessness, I had six children. But the Rebbe looked at your father and said that he and his wife would not have children by natural means. He advised him to consider adoption.

“Your father was heartbroken by this meeting with the Rebbe. He looked like he had returned from a funeral.

“Your father went to Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, a renowned posek in those days, to obtain guidance from him about what to do, but R’ Moshe was unwilling to pasken for him. Instead, he referred him to the Lubavitcher Rebbe.”

The start of their connection began with a letter that Simcha Bunim wrote to the Rebbe and the clear answer that the Rebbe responded with immediately the next day.

This letter, with which we began the article, was just the beginning of a moving story which R’ Hershel told us.

PART V

“The Rebbe was the architect of my adoption and that of my sister!” related R’ Hershel emotionally. “Where would I be without the Rebbe? The Rebbe was there for me along all of the roads in my life, even when I wasn’t aware of it.

“The Rebbe foresaw the entire course of my life. He guided my parents through all of the journeys in their lives. It was only in retrospect that I understand – and I realize that I still don’t understand everything – how the Rebbe devoted himself to my parents,” he said in tears.

“After my father received the letter from the Rebbe he arranged to meet with the Rebbe, alone, without my mother. When he entered the Rebbe’s room, he felt as though he had walked into an x-ray machine. He felt that the Rebbe saw his entire life in a glance.

“And then, the Rebbe told him, ‘I will make sure to provide you with kosher, pure Jewish children. Are you willing to carry out what I tell you?’

“My father was smart enough to realize that something momentous was taking place and he said, ‘With all my heart.’

“‘Yeshuos v’nechamos,’ said the Rebbe.

“From then on, the Rebbe took my parents by the hand and looked out for them the entire way. I know that there are large parts of the story that are still unknown to me, since my father was not much of a talker, but from what I understand, the Rebbe was like a dear father to the special father and mother that I was granted.”

PART VI

From examining the letters that R’ Hershel has and from the collection of letters that Rabbi Shlomo Matusof, first shliach to Morocco, had in his archives, it seems that the Rebbe had his shluchim in Morocco locate Jewish, kosher families, who observed the laws of family purity, who for reasons unknown to us were unable to raise their own children.

Instead of the prospective parents literally fulfilling the mitzva of pru u’rvu by having their own son and daughter, the Rebbe made sure they would adopt both a boy and a girl.

The Rebbe’s request was considered by R’ Matusof as an order, and within two weeks, R’ Chadakov called Simcha Bunim and said, “The Rebbe bought for you a ticket and on such and such a date you will sail by ship to Morocco where you will adopt a Jewish boy and girl, K’doshim and Tehorim.”

R’ Chadakov added, “You don’t need to worry about anything; not where you will be for Shabbos and not about kosher food. The Rebbe arranged for the shliach to await you at the port and he will help you with everything.”

R’ Hershel said, “Do you understand what the Rebbe did? He took a couple, broken people who went through the war, immigrants who barely knew the language of their new country, and who were unfamiliar with the American mentality, and suddenly they were going to adopt children from a third world country. Not only that, but the Rebbe cushioned the entire process for my father, paving the way and taking care of the smallest and most technical details. My father completely trusted the Rebbe that all would end well. He did not worry. There are no words to describe the love that the Rebbe showered on my parents.”

Shortly after the birth of the babies, a connection was made between the biological parents and the adoptive parents. “My parents named me Chaim Tzvi (Tzvi being Hershel in Yiddish). Chaim was for my father’s father and Tzvi for my mother’s father, both of whom were killed in the war. They named my sister Malka Gittel, for my grandmothers on both sides.”

R’ Simcha Bunim remained in Morocco for four months to arrange the adoption papers and to legalize the process of taking the children out of Morocco. It wasn’t easy. A lot of connections had to be made, and everything had to be arranged in legal fashion.

From Morocco, the new father traveled to Paris where the Rebbe saw to it that they help him with all the necessary paperwork, until he was able to return to the United States with the two babies.

The Rebbe’s instructions regarding adoption were focused and detailed throughout. For example, when the biological mother wanted R’ Simcha Bunim to remain in touch so she could know how the children were, my father consulted with the Rebbe who said better not. “Every child has just one mother and father,” said the Rebbe. And the biological mother, as in the real mother in King Shlomo’s court case, understood and agreed that the main thing was for her children to have a better life.

“I don’t know her and know nothing about her,” said R’ Hershel. “But it is clear to me that she is a special, righteous woman. She made a good life possible for us, and not just for us but for two other people, my adoptive parents. She had the privilege of helping create continuity for a generation that was annihilated in the Holocaust.

“My [adoptive] father did not want to tell me about the difficulties he had in raising us. Despite this, I remember that on one rare occasion he described to my wife how difficult it was. He was 45 years old, more or less, and now had to take care of two babies, to diaper them, feed them, and sooth them without any prior experience. Probably, even in this aspect, the Rebbe sent him help in Morocco, in Paris and when he arrived in the U.S.”

***

Throughout those months, my father wrote to my mother who remained in Boro Park. Due to not having the time to go through the letters that were written in a rich Polish-Yiddish and due to space considerations I was unable to complete the research, but what we know is that during the time the father was in distant Morocco, their neighbors back in New York, the Lubavitcher family of Rabbi Yehuda Leib Bistritzky, helped Mrs. Finkelman and hosted her for Shabbos. We don’t know whether this was also due to the Rebbe’s instructions.

PART VII

Even after the children came to the U.S., the connection with the Rebbe continued.

The story of the adoption was a secret. Mrs. Finkelman refused to tell the children that they were adopted. The couple showered the children with all the love in the world and they lacked for nothing.

R’ Simcha Bunim, to whom peace at home and his wife’s happiness were of paramount importance, made sure the children did not find out about their adoption. But one day, due to a mistake, the secret was revealed.

Mrs. Finkelman had an uncle, a widower who stayed with them often. When he came, he always told the children a bedtime story.

One evening he read the famous “Ugly Duckling” story about the ugly baby bird who was shunned by the other birds and at the end of the story turns out to be a swan, a beautiful bird, and not a duckling after all. It had been adopted by a family of ducks…

Eight-year-old Hershel could not understand how a duckling could be adopted by another family, and what did adopt mean anyway?

The uncle smiled and said, “What do you mean you don’t understand, when you are adopted!”

He instantly realized his mistake when he saw the stunned look on the boy’s face. Hershel jumped off the bed and ran to his mother to ask, “What does adopted mean?”

She turned pale. She wasn’t prepared for this question. The uncle fled the house. The family nest was never the same.

His sister took it differently, calmly. Life was good, her parents did everything for her, and she reciprocated their great love.

Only Hershel was unable to adjust to the situation and he made his adoptive parents’ lives miserable.

The father, by explicit order of his wife, kept quiet about the past, but Hershel tried every which way to apply pressure to discover the details: Who are my parents? Where was I born? Why did they abandon me?

The questions, that at first were asked respectfully and quietly, moved to loud, angry, impudent tones even when there were guests in the house or at dignified events. Hershel’s soul knew no rest. He tested his parents’ love every which way, testing their patience with unbearably difficult tests; he defied, demeaned, yelled and crossed every red line.

Later, he even left the path of Torah and mitzvos and publicly belittled all matters of holiness, despite the fact that they lived in a religious neighborhood.

The neighbors, rabbanim and friends all pleaded that he be thrown out of the house, saying he was an ingrate. But the father gritted his teeth and continued showering the boy with love. Even when he covered his body with tattoos, some of them with the symbols of the worst of our enemies, those who tortured and murdered his parents’ families, his father continued to treat him the way we expect Hashem to treat us. The boy reciprocated bad for good and the father responded with love instead of hate. That is how Hershel’s life continued from the age of 12 till 40!

He would like to forget this period; he asks Hashem to forgive him. For his father to forgive him. “The Rebbe teaches us to look ahead, not to wallow in the past,” he said to me, and I nodded my agreement.

PART VIII

Twenty years ago, Hershel was living in the Five Towns near the Chabad house of the shliach, Rabbi Zalman Wolowik.

One day, Hershel and his sister were sitting in their parents’ basement, sorting through stuff. In a shoe box they found correspondence with the Rebbe and their parents’ correspondence with one another. These were letters that revealed the big secret; the letters that showed the tremendous connection the Rebbe had with their family. They suddenly discovered all the secrets of the adoption and understood that they had been born in Morocco and it was the Lubavitcher Rebbe who found them loving parents to raise them.

He went to his father with the letters and asked, “Why didn’t you tell me the truth?”

“Did you want me to sacrifice my shalom bayis?” his father responded. In that one line, he gave him a lesson for life. “Mommy did not want me to tell you, so despite everything you did, I did not say anything.”

Hershel felt terribly ashamed. He went to R’ Wolowik and told him the whole story. He resolved to leave his destructive path and return to the ways of his fathers. He began keeping Shabbos and kashrus, tefillin and Yomim Tovim. He grew a beard and peios, and mainly he was zealous about the mitzva of respect for parents.

“The Rebbe’s letter saved my life twice! The first time at my physical birth and the second time with my spiritual birth. Thanks to the letter, I did teshuva.”

His father was still alive to see his beloved son become religious again.

By the way, his father suffered a lot in Boro Park because of his connection with the Lubavitcher Rebbe, but he wasn’t fazed by anyone. Everyone knew that when you entered his living room, there was a big picture of the Rebbe. That generated many questions. How did someone who learned in Litvishe yeshivos end up with a picture of the Rebbe in his living room?

“My father did not explain. When they pressured him, he would say that when he was in Tashkent, the Rebbe Rayatz sent him shluchim with matzos so he could eat shmura matza on Pesach. ‘You can’t imagine what danger to life the shluchim subjected themselves to in order to follow the Rebbe’s instructions and take care of Jews they did not know. Actual danger to life. So, you are going to talk against the Lubavitcher Rebbe?!’

“I will take this opportunity to give a big thank you to R’ Yossi Piamenta. He is the one who showed me the light, the path of the Rebbe. For a long time, he would sit with me from eight in the evening until eight in the morning and teach me the Rebbe’s teachings and help me learn how to cleanse away the anger, how to forgive. Thanks to him, I became a completely different person. I was a tough man, bitter and angry, and I became gentle, sensitive.”

PART IX

When Hershel met R’ Zalman Farkash, as we began this story, his mother was still alive. Knowing that everything connected to the past and the adoption caused her pain, he refused to allow the letter to be copied and publicized. It was only after R’ Farkash promised him that the letter would be sent without identifying details and when R’ Hershel realized that thanks to this special letter, which saved him twice, another Jewish child and another suffering Jewish family would be saved, that he acceded.

PART X

“I call upon all parents,” Hershel concludes his moving story. “Even if your children are feeding you bitter herbs, even if they reach a terrible state in which they do things to themselves that should not be done, even if they scream and are defiant: show that you love them!

“Learn from my father and continue loving them. Prove it to them, don’t give up on them!

“You received holy souls from Hashem. He chose you to raise them. Unfortunately, I did not bring children into the world. You did.


“Learn from our Father in Heaven who loves us and forgives us, despite everything. Learn from the Rebbe, the Oheiv Yisroel, who cares about every Jewish child, because he is your son, his son.”

Article originally appeared on Beis Moshiach Magazine (http://beismoshiachmagazine.org/).
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